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Churches in London, Chatham collect over 80 bikes for migrant workers

From left to right: AJ McCallum, Heather McCallum, John Maroney and Kevin George stand in front of one of more than 80 bikes the group helped collect this month for migrant workers in the region. Andrew Graham / Global News

St. Aidan’s Anglican Church in London, Ont., and Christ Church Chatham joined hands this month for a charity campaign that collected more than 80 bikes for migrant workers in southwestern Ontario, which are set to be delivered next week.

The campaign looks to respond to a need for transportation that’s common among migrant workers, according to Rev. John Maroney, the Rector at Christ Church.

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He says this need first became apparent “many years ago” when he conducted Spanish services for Mexican migrant workers at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Thamesville, a place of worship that has since closed.

“Eight of them would show and I’d say, ‘where are your buddies?’ And they’d say they’d love to come, but they need to bikes,” Maroney said.

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“That’s where it started, the fact that they’re here for eight months, they’re a vital part of our economy and yet they didn’t have a way to get to a church service.”

Along with the opportunity to bike down to a church service, Maroney also believes the bikes will provide a sense of dignity.

“The dignity of being able to get from point a to point b without having to ask someone else … It’s a sense of liberation.”

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Inspiration struck when St. Aidan’s held a series of community bicycle rides in June, prompting Maroney to reach out to Rev. Canon Kevin George, the Rector of the London church.

George originally expected to only receive a couple dozen bikes, but once he began spreading the word on social media, the community truly pushed the pedal to the metal with donations.

“We set a goal of 60, we’re well over 80 bikes at the moment,” George said on Wednesday.

To make sure the donated bikes would be suitable for riding, George enlisted the help of AJ McCallum, a former bike mechanic who travels to London to fix the bikes, where his mom, Heather, keeps them stored in her garage.

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“(At first) we had a couple, so I was like, ‘Ah, I’m just going to change some tubes over,’ then all of a sudden, I’m gone for a week and a half back to my place, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, our garage is full’,” McCallum said.

AJ and Heather McCallum stand in front of a dozens of yet-to-be fixed bikes inside a west London garage. Andrew Graham / Global News

Each fix can take up to 45 minutes, but McCallum says the work is simple and often includes pumping tires, greasing chains and adjusting gears.

His mom helps with pumping tires and organizing the bikes, while his dog Leo is there to cheer on the team.

“My goal is to do about seven to 10 bikes a day,” McCallum said.

As of Wednesday, about 30 bikes have been tuned up, and with a plan to have more than 80 bikes delivered to a farm in the Kent County area next week, George says they’ve reached capacity for the current campaign, but will accept donations from those looking to help.

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He says $175 is enough to buy a new bike that doesn’t require McCallum’s fixing. Those looking to donate can send an email to justkevingeorge@gmail.com or call St. Aidan’s Anglican Church at 519-471-1430.

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The two reverends are still finalizing details for next week’s drop-off, but say once they arrive, the bikes will be shared by those on the farm.

“There’s many more workers than the bikes … there’ll be a bike share, so those 80-some bikes will multiply and really create a community that otherwise wouldn’t exist,” Maroney said.

After such a good response to the first iteration of the bike campaign, George hopes other churches will join in and help provide more bikes to migrant workers in the future.

“We’ve got churches all over this area where there are migrant workers who are facing these very same issues, so this is the beginning,” George said.

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“How can we systemically build this into our annual sort-of-work, so that in the spring of the year, when a lot of these folks come, there’s some transportation readily available.”

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